Philipsburg-Osceola’s J.D. Mason got a surprise phone call about three weeks ago from Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary.
Mason had little idea the Nittany Lions were interested in him at that point because he had not spoken to any PSU coaches.
‘‘I just thought how sweet it would be to be able to play at Penn State,’’ Mason said, ‘‘but I never thought I’d get a chance.’’
Mason now will have such a chance as the Lions are bringing the receiver/defensive back in as a preferred walk-on.
‘‘I’m real excited,’’ Mason said. ‘‘That’s what I’ve always been waiting for, a chance to play D-I, and I finally got it.’’
Mason, also recruited by Colgate, Princeton and Penn, earned first-team all-state recognition each of the past two seasons as a defensive back for the Mounties. He intercepted 25 passes in his career, including seven his senior season.
Penn State plans to try Mason as a receiver, though, taking advantage of his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame. The Lions have made a commitment to recruiting bigger receivers the past two years, and they found one right in their backyard in Mason.
‘‘I think they could utilize him in the slot a little bit, try to get some mismatches with him because of his size,’’ P-O coach Jeff Vroman said.
Mason caught 27 passes for 551 yards and six touchdowns this past season. He admits he doesn’t have great speed, but he hopes his size will make up for it.
Vroman said Mason has good hands and runs good routes and thinks the PSU coaches can work on improving his speed. Mason said he could bulk up 30 pounds and play tight end or concentrate on his speed for a possible move to safety.
‘‘I think I would rather play offense,’’ Mason said. ‘‘But once I get to Penn State, I’ll take whatever position I can to get on the field.’’
Walk-ons usually don’t get many opportunities to play at major schools, but Penn State coach Joe Paterno has rewarded some with playing opportunities and even scholarships. One example is Deon Butler, who came to PSU as a walk-on defensive back before emerging as a standout receiver.
If the walk-ons work hard enough, Paterno isn’t opposed to giving them a shot.
‘‘If I have a chance to play in that kind of atmosphere, I’ll definitely push myself real hard,’’ Mason said.